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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

FOG OF WAR


I read all maps with interest, because they always tell a story, about a place and a time - as in Civil War maps.  In textbooks Pennsylvania is a solid blue union state. But the little town Hanover, and its 1,600 residents, where the Hanover Pike crossed the road from Baltimore (30 miles to the southeast) was also a border town. It lay just five miles north of the white stone Mason Dixon line marker (above), the official divide between “slave” and “free” states. 
So at 8 a.m. on the last day of June, 1863, when the 1st and 7th regiments of Michigan volunteer cavalry cantered up the Baltimore Pike into Hanover (above), they were unsure of the reception they would receive. A halt was called and their commander, newly promoted General George Armstrong Custer, ordered most the men to dismount and posted sentries on all the roads into town. Meanwhile, the newly appointed Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick, commander of the 3rd Cavalry division, greeted the townsfolk and asked for information. He found them pleasant and helpful.So, after a short rest, when the 1st West Virginia cavalry, under Union General Farnsworth, arrived, Custer and Kilpatrick and the Michigan men remounted and continued on to the northeast, toward the Pigeon Hills and Abbottstown beyond. They were looking for the Rebel army, said to be somewhere in the area.In their turn the West Virginians were replaced in Hanover by the 5th New York. And about 11 A.M. the newly formed 18th Pennsylvania cavalry regiment limped into Hanover and the New Yorkers mounted up and, in their turn, began to head toward Abbottstown.Pennsylvanian Captain Henry Potter, commanding 40 men, relieved the New York pickets southwest of Hanover, out on Fredrick road. Their officer informed him of some suspicious men seen lurking at the edge of a nearby wood. When the New York boys left, Potter decided to investigate. He and some of his men advanced down the road to the southwest of Hanover. Three miles later, at a road junction and small farm owned by the Butts family (above), Potter's command was suddenly cutoff by 60 mounted men in grey who appeared behind him. They were members of the 2nd North Carolina cavalry, and their officer demanded that Potter surrender. Instead, Potter ordered his men to draw their pistols and charge.They burst through the startled Rebel line, killing one Confederate trooper and wounding several others. Four of the Pennsylvania men were also killed, but they broke through and raced back toward Hanover. The rebels gave chase.This became a three mile gallop across the countryside, both sides firing wildly. As the pursuit neared Hanover it uncovered the men Potter had left behind. Their seven shot carbines forced the Confederates to pause. But as more of the North Carolina horsemen arrived,  they swarmed over the federals who retreated back down Fredrick street and into town.The center square of Hanover was now jammed with the federal cavalry division’s supply train and ambulances, as well as the rear guard of the 5th New York which had yet to leave town. General Farnsworth was trying to disentangle the one from the other. But he was overrun by his own retreating men, with the rebels pressing closely behind. Farnsworth's federals were driven out of the town.
Farnsworth quickly reformed his troopers, and was reinforced by more who were counter- marching toward the sound of the guns. With the New York rear guard and most of the Pennsylvania regiment, Farnsworth launched a dismounted charge back into the town. The federals now swarmed through the narrow side streets and alleys around the square.Now the mounted rebels found themselves engaged in close combat in the narrow side streets of Hanover, (above)  where there was little room to swing a saber or maneuver a horse. The commander of the Confederate troops had his own horse shot out from under him, was thrown into a vat of dye and was then  captured by a New York trooper.The Confederates were forced to withdraw. As more confederate troopers arrived, they formed battle lines on the hills to the south and west of Hanover, while the Federals were in a defensive arc centered on town (above). Rebel artillery began to lob shells. Battery E of the 4th U.S. Horse Artillery responded.At this point General Kilpatrick arrived back in Hanover, having driven his horse so hard that it immediately broke down and died. He thus lived up to his nickname of General “Kill Cavalry”.Kilpatrick put Custer’s dismounted men to the west of Hanover, and the fair haired Custer (above) began to press toward the Confederate artillery position, forcing the rebels to reinforce that flank and pull their artillery back.And just for a few moments it looked as if a great battle might be fought here (above), with both sides feeding in men until the battle grew to a maw that ground up humanity by the thousands. But it was not to be. That night the Rebel cavalry commander, J.E. B. Stuart, slipped his troopers around the union right flank (to the east) and headed to the north, toward Dover and away from the Confederate main body. . In the morning Kilpatrick’s horsemen followed the Confederates, to the north and to the east. There was to be no great battle in Hanover.But, that same morning, July 1st, 1863, the 2nd Federal Cavalry division was probing 12 miles due west of Hanover, and found not Confederate cavalry but infantry, the entire right flank of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  It was this force that J.E.B. Stuart was supposed to be screening, and protecting. And it was this battle which would grow over the next three days into the climatic struggle of the American Civil War, in and around a small Pennsylvania crossroads town no larger than Hanover, but destined to be more famous; Gettysburg.
It was an accident of history that Hanover was not the site of the war’s crucial battle: lucky Hanover. It was a combination of human blindness and ambition, and accidents of terrain and of timing that the battle of Hanover produced 28 dead, 123 wounded and 180 missing or captured..Meanwhile at Gettysburg these same imponderables produced 7,864 dead, 27,224 wounded and 11,199 missing or captured. And that illogic is what is called the logic of war.The first soldier killed at Hanover, out near the Butts farm, was Corporal John Hoffacker. He had served in the 18th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry for all of two months, and he died barely 20 miles from his home. That too is the logic of war.
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